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Special Applications of Amino Acids and Protein 

How important is protein during weight loss?

Protein is very advantageous to weight loss and needs to a foremost consideration in dietary planning. Simply put, caloric imbalance favoring weight loss increases protein requirements (grams/kg body weight) so at the least the protein % of calories in the diet should be increased. Consuming adequate protein during weight loss can help a person maintain or minimize the the loss of muscle mass during the weight loss process, the former is mostly possible when combined with resistance exercise. Maintaining muscle will be more beneficial to his or her metabolism (the number of calories burned) as weight loss continues and when a goal is met. Consideration should be applied to 1) protein level in a meal, 2) meal frequency and 3) total daily protein. Meals should start early and have at least 15 or 20g protein for women and men every few hours. Plus current research suggests that when a meal derives more of its calories from protein, versus saturated fat and simpler carbohydrates the meals can promote greater satiety (fullness) and possibly reduce hunger a couple hours later. Furthermore, amino acids require special (energy requiring) processing if they are to be used for energy. That means that more calories are burned to use protein for energy during weight loss than many carbohydrates and saturated fat which can promote greater weight loss over time. Thus, protein is the most thermogenic calorie contributor to the diet.  


Can amino acids affect our mood and sleep?

Because certain neurotransmitters in the brain are made from amino acids, amino acids from the diet or supplements are often touted to be able to influence mood, memory, and emotions. For instance, trypto­phan and tyrosine are used by brain cells to make serotonin and the catecholamines, namely norepinephrine and dopamine, respectively. Also, cho­line, which can be made from the amino acid serine, is a building block for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine.


Serotonin is a neurotransmitter mostly associated with a calming and sleepy feeling. In order for serotonin to be produced, tryptophan must exit the blood and enter our brain cells. The movement of tryptophan out of the blood requires a special transport system. However, tryptophan must compete with several other amino acids, namely valine, leucine, tyrosine, and phenylalanine, to do so.



Does warm milk at night make you sleepy?

One of the most commonly associated foods with calmness and sleepiness is milk, particularly warm milk. Some of this notion is derived from watching what happens to babies after they drink warm milk (either from the breast or milked-based formula). While some of calming effect is related to the suckling action itself and the temperature of the milk, some the remaining effect might be related to either protein fragments created during the digestion of milk. Here’s how, mother’s milk is high in whey, which is high in BCAAs that drive protein production and growth. However, the BCAAs compete with tryptophan to move into the brain to create serotonin. On the other hand, whey and its digestion peptides increases the level of insulin which helps drive BCAAs into muscle thereby allowing for more tryptophan to enter the brain and be converted to calming serotonin. This effect would then be greater in human milk than cow’s milk due to the differing ratio of whey:casein if it is a real. While this remains to be conclusively proven, it is interesting. 


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